InfoComm: Display giants converge on full-service

At the Panasonic breakfast at last week's InfoComm 2010 in Las Vegas, Panasonic executives talked about the company's move to break down internal silos to create a full-service "solutions" company.

LG Electronics announced the availability of its SignNET a turnkey digital signage solution at InfoComm as well. LG's SignNET combines hardware, software, starter templates and customizable news feeds from CNN — ready to go right out of the box, according to the company.

And at the NEC Display Solutions booth, company executives talked about the company's move to offer its VUKUNET content management software at no charge – and its capabilities to also offer content creation and ad management services.

All of which points to a trend toward consolidation of services as an effort to achieve differentiation in the marketplace.

The digital signage sector is still growing and sorting itself out, but it's also becoming more crowded. A neophyte looking to deploy a signage network who walked into the digital signage section of InfoComm likely wouldn't even know where to start – or how to tell one offering from another, at least at first.

So how can companies create some separation, or differentiate themselves in a still-confusing market space and make themselves stand out to those just now dipping their toes into digital signage?

By offering one-stop shopping, apparently.

Of course, if an end-user or deployer picks the one-stop option, they might not be getting best-in-class everything. They might get a great display, but an okay software package, for instance. But how many might choose to save time and money at the outset by going with one solution provider?

It seems that some companies might be betting on deployers preferring one-stop shopping over boutique buying – again, at least at first.

The recently formed Panasonic Solutions Company that combined Panasonic's display, camera, projector and tough-book divisions obviously offers more than just signage solutions, but Rick Albert, vice president, flat panel displays, said the company would also offer content creation and distribution solutions. And a quick glance at the company's website shows it's serious about offering total digital signage solutions.

Product marketing manager Rudolf Vitti says the company will also be collaborating with third-party service providers, but it's looking into content creation systems and media players.

"(The company's selection of commercial-grade displays) is just a piece of the puzzle," he said, before talking about the company's forays into other services. "Part of that is being a true solution provider."

According to LG, SignNET can be used "right out of the box," making it possible to create digital signage content by "simply using almost a dozen starter templates that are customized for numerous vertical markets."

"Making digital signage simple but exceedingly effective is what SignNET is all about," Jeff Dowell, vice president, digital signage, LG Electronics USA Business Solutions, said in a company release.

At least for now, though, most of these additional options and solutions are still a side business for the display giants. But with a new industry still shaking itself out, that may not always be the case.

"At the end of the day we still sell displays, but we need to do more than that," NEC Display Solutions vice president of marketing Ashley Flaska said last week on the show floor. "We want to have the biggest footprint in the digital signage industry."

The software package NEC is giving away is primarily intended for general purpose digital signage needs, Flaska acknowledged, and just isn't going to compete with some of the higher-end software packages. Theirs is easy to use – just drag and drop, she says – but NEC wants to maintain its good relationships with those higher-end software developers as well. Those companies bring business to NEC for display needs, and now when NEC customers want to take the next step up in software capabilities, NEC can direct business to them for higher-end software, Flaska says.

"We're going to be able to provide them with more value than we did in the past," she said.

So while NEC's decision to offer the VUKUNET CMS free of charge has cause ripples in the DOOH world, the company isn't hiding what it's about: "If somebody's using our CMS or our platform, then when it comes time to upgrade their displays then maybe NEC will be top of mind," Flaska said.

But NEC's also not being completely shortsighted about it, according to Flaska. Their ad management software also will work with any Windows-based CMS, and the company is working on Mac compatibility, she says. And the company is at least talking a good game about how its success can translate to success for its partners and everyone else in the industry.

"We're trying to play nice in the industry," she said. "We're trying to grow the industry."

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